The Deuce — the new series is about the birth of the contemporary porn industry in 1970’s New York City — made its official premiere Sunday night on HBO, a network that is no stranger to overtly sexual content. The first episode of the series documents a handful of street-based sex workers in ‘70s Times Square, pimps interested in profiting off of them, and the local businesses/business owners that interact with them daily. While the season opener made no mention of porn, the racial dynamics of transactional sex and American desire were on full display.
In one of the opening scenes, Jerry Love (Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter from The Roots) and C.C. (Gary Carr), two pimps, are at a bus station scouting out women to potentially work for them. In the meantime, they discuss the Vietnam war and politics, pausing only to comment on the women in the station. A Black woman with a big butt and a mean walk saunters past them. She’s super thick, but Jerry Love insists that it doesn’t “work” for him. The issue isn’t that he can’t personally “handle that” as C.C. proposes, but that she would be intimidating to his white clientele because she has “too much ass.” C.C. didn’t know such a condition was possible and neither did I, but I do understand the inner workings of Jerry’s logic.
If you don’t think sex is political, consider the filter options on your favorite porn site. Categories like ‘Ebony’ (Black) and ‘Asian’ sit right alongside specific sexual identities like ‘Lesbian’ and specialized acts like ‘Blow Job’ and ‘Squirting.’ That sexual desirability is also subject to racial categorization is not a new idea. In 2016, Black women are still considered to be at the bottom of the totem pole from the field of psychology to modern dating apps. Tropes about Black women’s hypersexuality encourage Black women to tone down their bodies and sexual expression in order to become more palatable under the moors of traditional attractiveness. This is the root of Jerry Love’s opinion the Black woman in the bus station. Her body is too voluptuous (read: sexual) to fulfill men’s fantasies of sexual conquest and prowess.
When Jerry Love confides that he’d like to add a “Chinese hoe” to his “herd” (*rolls eyes* pimps are so corny) this, too, is loaded with the politics of desirability. Women who can be visibly identified as “foreign,” regardless of whether or not they are actually American, are often pedestaled as more desirable. In the context of objectification, these women represent a “limited edition” among more standard models. The end result is often fetishization and sexualized racism. While there aren’t any characters in The Deuce who fit this trope, yet, it’s still a narrative worth noting.
The Deuce is proving to be a dynamic take on Americanized sexuality. Sex work is not awash in hegemony and victimization. Yet the harsh truth about the workings of said economy isn't hushed. The show subtly follows the twists and turns in a culture of sexuality that is often oversimplified. I’m excited about the possibilities in the rest of the season.